October saw an interesting development in the Pennsylvania poker fight when that state’s Supreme Court found the Commonwealth’s casino tax formula, which was set up specifically to benefit municipalities and counties that host casinos, to be unconstitutional. The court gave the state 120 days to amend the law to bring it into compliance, after which time the ruling takes effect with or without legislative action.
This is of interest to poker because, to implement this ruling, lawmakers must amend the 2004 law that authorized casino gaming. This means lawmakers may choose to address all pending casino-related issues at the same time. In other words, the option of kicking the can on Internet poker down the road into 2017 is not an option for the overall gaming issue. It is easier to address Internet poker now than to take it up again next year -- especially as lawmakers still need revenue to cover money they are already spending.
To encourage the Senate to act on online poker along with the required legislative changes, the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee held a hearing on online poker, online casino-style gaming, and daily fantasy sports. PPA Executive Director John Pappas was invited to testify at the hearing, where he told lawmakers of the desire of many Pennsylvanians to have the right to play poker in their own homes on their own computers while also having the consumer protections afforded by licensing and regulation.
John also discussed with the legislators in attendance recent site failures like those of Lock Poker and Full Flush Poker, where players lost the funds they had on deposit with no recourse. And, of course, he reminded lawmakers of the revenue to be made from licensed online poker. John called on lawmakers to pass this bill now and not to kick the can down the road into 2017, reminding the committee that Pennsylvanians “have waited long enough.”
Following John’s testimony, which I encourage you take a moment to read, a highlight of the hearing came during questioning when PA Rep. George Dunbar told his fellow lawmakers that he is a proud member of the Poker Players Alliance. Committee chair Rep. John Payne then made the case for immediate action, saying inaction would mean another year without consumer protections, another year of talks in the legislature and hundreds of amendments, and another year without revenue for the state.
On the heels of John’s testimony, I have more great news. The full House passed a bill to license Internet poker in that state with a 108-71 vote. This bill would also license online casino-style gaming and daily fantasy sports while addressing the casino tax provision the state Supreme Court found unconstitutional. The bill is now on to the Senate.
John Pappas shared his thoughts on this vote in a press release that I urge you to read in full:
We thank the House for its support of online gaming today while taking up the critical local share tax issue and urge the Senate to take immediate action. There is no policy or political justification for the Senate to delay a vote. Every day that passes without robust protections, leaves consumers vulnerable and leaves revenue on the table.
Pennsylvania's budget for 2016-2017 includes revenue from online gaming licenses. The collection of these fees is especially critical now that Pennsylvania’s Department of Revenue reports that tax collection is $218.5 million, or 3.2 percent, below estimate.
In recent weeks, thousands of Pennsylvanians have contacted their lawmakers to urge action. Protecting consumers while raising revenue without raising taxes is what Commonwealth residents want and deserve. Don’t once again kick the can down the road.
Let’s all be sure to tell the PA Senate not to try to sneak in a quick fix to address the tax provision issue while kicking the online gaming provisions of the bill down the road into next year. They need to hear from us and know that the people want licensed poker websites in PA this year.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Kim Ward has tweeted a few times in reply to the many poker players and enthusiasts asking for her support. Please take a moment make and like respectful pro-poker tweets in response, encouraging her to push forward on PA online poker legislation:
Please also be sure to send all-new prefilled, editable poker tweets to the Pennsylvania Senate via the PPA Pennsylvania action page. Thanks.
Webcast: Poker Advocacy with Rich Muny
On a recent webcast, PPA Executive Director John Pappas returned to the program to discuss the fight for poker at the state and federal levels and steps players can take to help win the fight for our game.
We kicked off the broadcast with discussion on Sheldon Adelson’s continued fight to ban online poker throughout the U.S., with focus on new anti-poker bill S. 3376. John explained how Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that may look innocuous to some but could have far reaching repercussions were it to pass. We discussed steps being taken to ensure lawmakers understand the gravity of this legislation.
John then updated everyone on the fight at the state level. Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan are in the lead to move forward, with Pennsylvania most likely of the three to take action in 2016. John then shared that, as states move forward, other states will move as well, like a domino effect. So, we should all do our part to help all states move forward.
John and I wrapped up with things we can do to win this fight, including participating in the Poker Daily Action Plan right here on 2+2. I encourage you to check out this important webcast:
Poker Advocacy with Rich Muny airs live Tuesdays at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT on OnTilt Radio. Each show features great guests and the best discussion on poker legislation. Please be sure to tune in every Tuesday evening at www.ontiltradio.com.
Help Fund the Fight
A critical factor to winning the poker fight is through your financial support. We may have a billionaire fighting us, but the numbers are on our side. If you can make even a small contribution to PPA, you can help ensure our ability as a community to continue taking the fight to Adelson and his minions on Capitol Hill.
While Sheldon Adelson continues to follow through with his pledge to “spend whatever it takes” in his effort to ban online poker, our organized fight back will ensure lawmakers know where the American people truly are on this issue.
Thanks to the terrific generosity of Two Plus Two Publishing, PPA is able to provide donors with a downloadable PPA edition of the acclaimed book, Fundamentals of Poker, authored by Mason Malmuth and Lynne Loomis. For your copy, simply email PPA at email@example.com.